(Netflix Streaming, November 2015) I’m aware that Wet Hot American Summer now has a cult-favorite reputation, but watching the film isn’t as amazing an experience as I’d been led to believe. Executed on a shoestring budget in reportedly terrible shooting conditions (as in; cold and rainy for weeks, not helping a film supposed to take place during a single sunny summer day), Wet Hot American Summer does have a number of very funny moments, especially when the film temporarily lets go of character-driven comedy and fully indulges into its most absurdist whims. Alas, those better moments tend to be sporadic and feel out of place among the more restrained humor of the rest of the film: There’s an unevenness to the quality of the jokes than probably shows better than anything else the relative lack of experience of the filmmakers. (David Wain would later write and direct the somewhat more controlled They Came Together) This being said, much of the appeal of at least a first viewing of Wet Hot American Summer comes from seeing a bunch of well-known actors make appearances here, often in very early roles: Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd weren’t as well-known in 2001 than today, plus we get great performances by Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce. Otherwise, the film’s winning charm compensates for the hit-and-miss humor, although not by much: As the production values limits become more obvious, it’s easy to imagine what the creators could have done with more. (And, in fact, you can see that in the 2015 four-hour Netflix mini-series that improbably not only manages to get nearly everyone back, but sets itself a few weeks before the film. ) For more information on the film and the remarkable experience its cast and crew had in going to camp for a few weeks, have a look at Hurricane of Fun also available on Netflix… but be warned that it’s all 2001 grainy footage with very little connective material.
(On Cable TV, February 2015) If you can’t be bothered to watch yet another romantic comedy, then how about a romantic comedy parody? They Came Together takes aim at rom-com clichés with a considerable amount of deadpan sarcastic silliness, using actors who have played those very same roles dozens of time before. To its credit, writer/director David Wain doesn’t try to parody specific scenes or movies, but stick to the archetypical structure of romantic comedies as a clothesline on which to hang the gags. (“Oh, and… Thanks.”) Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler ably anchor a large cast of familiar comic actors, which adds to the interest. As the kind of comic film that embraces absurdity and is willing to try just about anything to get a laugh, They Came Together is definitely uneven: good jokes can be followed by dumb stuff, and the film is a bit too fond of the idea that some things are funnier the more often they are repeated. (“Oh, and… Thanks.”) The humor is a bit snarkier-than-thou –which is a way of saying that some will laugh a lot and others won’t see the point. It may be a bit too clever for its own good at times, but I’ll take excessive cleverness over the kind of painfully unfunny stupidity that parodies have all-too-often become over the past two decades. They Came Together is best seen without too many preconceptions, and funny enough to stock up a late evening.